Alzheimer’s Association releases recommendations for primary care doctors
The Alzheimer’s Association recently released guidance to help health care providers detect cognitive impairment as part of the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit. As of January 2011, an Annual Wellness Visit is available for all seniors who are Medicare eligible. The benefit was added in the Affordable Care Act (health care reform law), and its purpose is to prevent illness or detect it early.
Checking for cognitive impairment (memory and thinking problems) is part of the visit. Prior to Alzheimer’s Association recommendations, there has been no comprehensive guidance on how to assess for cognitive impairment in the primary care setting. During the visit, the doctor or other health care provider (such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant) can use the recommended tools and assess patients’ responses as well evaluate family members’ information. These tests along with vital patient history, self-reported concerns and clinician observations are the first step in determining the need for further evaluation.
As baby boomers turn 65 years old, they advance into an age of greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s. The Medicare Annual Wellness Visit could increase timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s to allow people affected and their families to better adjust current lifestyles, engage in learning about care and support, and plan for the future.
In developing the recommendations, the Alzheimer’s Association convened a group of experts to survey the current literature and build consensus around an effective, practical and easy process. In addition to the range of tools identified, the recommendations suggest questions to include in the required Health Risk Assessments that patients must provide for the visit. The recommendations also include tools that are available in multiple languages and are unaffected by education levels and different cultural backgrounds.